THOSE players most at risk of missing out on an automatic place at the World Championships have been feeling the heat in Mumbai in more ways than the 35 degrees outside.

With overhauling even a £20,000 deficit often a big ask with the other players also winning matches, for a long time it looked a straight three-way fight for one place.

Mark Williams was doing battle with Graeme Dott and Rob Milkins – three players including two former world champions with an extra incentive, having missed out on the final stages of the blue-riband event last year.

And the significance has soared with a qualifying revamp that means all from 17 downwards in the rankings – or in reality 16, given the provisions rightly made for Ali Carter – face three matches to get to the Crucible.

Mark Davis remains an outsider to gatecrash the party but the maths suggests that someone will have to get to at least one final if not better to dislodge Williams – or Stephen Maguire.

Fate of course dumped Williams, Dott and Milkins all in the same quarter of the draw at the Indian Open  - but Dott’s fellow Scot Maguire is now also looking nervously over his shoulder.

At one time, when Maguire decided not to enter the event in India, he looked safe even allowing for the money coming off for his Welsh Open win two years ago.

But the picture has changed significantly since then, not least due to Williams reaching the semi-finals in his home Welsh Open in Cardiff and some wins for Dott and Milkins.

An excellent run in India, or at the PTC Finals in Bangkok – for which Dott has not qualified – or the China Open could yet alter the status quo with big money up for grabs, but it will take something more than a couple of wins here and there to alter the current line-up.

The 39-year-old Milkins, due to face Dott in the last 16, gave an insight into the agonies being suffered after his last-32 win over Joe Swail.

The current world No16 said: “You are thinking about having to try and win a title or get to the final to get your Crucible place, that’s what it might need.

“It is important to keep the wins coming. I came to India knowing I had the players around me in the rankings in my section and quarter, so if you took them out you had a chance.

“But I do think for those trying to get in, if you didn’t win this, then you would probably have to get to no less than a final of the PTC Finals or the China Open.

“Mark Williams has been playing well for a long time now, as well as anyone in many ways, so it was always a possibility he would have a run like he did in Wales.

“Maybe Maguire is the one I need to be looking at now, he didn’t enter India but he is in the others and he could easily win those if he hits form. He still is in a good position.

“The ball is in my court, I know what I have to do in the events that remain and I don’t mind being the chaser trying to get in, in some ways that is easier than hanging on like I tried to last year.

“My feeling is that having to play three Crucible qualifiers for someone ranked 17 in the world is a joke, an absolute liberty – but we can’t do anything about it now.”


Photograph by Monique Limbos